Wednesday, November 6, 2013

53. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)



Code-name: Box #5
(as anyone at the Opera House knows, "box #5 is always to be left empty")

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Joel Schumacher
Type: Musical, Romance, Drama
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber (Charles Hart- lyrics)

Cast:
Christine Daae- Emmy Rossum
Erik, The Phantom- Gerard Butler
Raoul- Patrick Wilson
Madam Giry- Miranda Richardson
Meg- Jennifer Ellison
Carlotta- Minnie Driver

Notable Nominations:
nomination-OSCAR- Best Art Direction
nomination-OSCAR- Best Cinematography
nomination-OSCAR- Best Original Song ("Learn to be Lonely"- ALW & CH)
nomination-Golden Globe- Best Actress (Comedy/Musical)- Emmy Rossum
nomination-Golden Globe- Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)
nomination-Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("Learn to be Lonely")

Write-up:

WARNING: I'm writing this entry assuming that the audience is familiar with the story, so if you don't want spoilers... well, you've been warned

We go WAY back...

This was my second-ever Broadway show. I saw it in the Fall of 2000 with my dad's family as we were celebrating my grandma's 70th birthday.
I vaguely knew the story because it was featured on the PBS show "Wishbone" (where I got to know a lot of old-timey literature as a kid, lol). I remember very little about it except for the first and last scenes... where Raoul was meeting Christine, talking about how he retrieved her scarf, and the finale where I thought the Phantom was going to kill Raoul... I knew that he'd survive, but I was thought maybe there were re-writes :-P

Either way, I was sobbing uncontrollably for 10 minutes afterwards. Everyone thought I was enamored by it. It probably was just as well, but I couldn't explain how it took me so long to recover.

Anyway...
Andrew Lloyd Webber, we own a CD of his greatest Broadway hits, as well as the soundtrack for "Cats"...
I love the animals themselves, but I hate the musical (especially that song "Memory"). They aired it on PBS and, yeah... I don't care to go into it. It turned me into about as much a basketcase as older Disney movies tend to.

I remember playing the two main songs from "Phantom" several times... great stuff, Sarah Brightman & Michael Crawford.

In concert choir, we had the song "Masquerade" at one of our concerts and one of the theatrically gifted 2004 senior class, Janna Emig, sang "All I ask of you" before we came on to sing.
When they had the lyrics changed in this movie, I'll admit, they ticked me off :-P it was like an entirely different song I didn't know the words to.

It's fair to say I'd seen the movie loads of times on HBO before getting it for Christmas one year. We came full circle because my grandma was the one who got it for me.
...man, so many times late at night where I'd be watching it, good times.

A few words for the Cast

Big production movies like this one are often when I get acquainted with actors for the first time.

It's funny how Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were considered for this movie... actually in Anne's case, almost cast... yet, both didn't make it in and would wow everyone in their "Les Miz" portrayals (award-inspiring ones at that).
I believe I heard about this movie coming into production and Anne Hathaway was going to be Christine. Then I was disappointed when I heard she had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts.
It adds insult to injury, I think, that she was contractually obligated to do a second "Princess Diaries" film. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and it introduced me to Chris Pine, but I'm still disappointed with the ending... how she didn't outright pick someone to marry.

Emmy Rossum, I'd only seen in those "Fabric of our lives" ads for Cotton since this movie. Yes, she was in "The Day after Tomorrow" and the remake of "The Poseidon Adventure," but those aren't the types of movies I typically watch.

Patrick Wilson, I believe had a short-lived TV show that got cancelled, and I recently saw him in "Morning Glory"... the shorter haircut was very much appreciated.
Raoul with long-hair gives him a regal flair (his parents are powerful people, though I'm not quite sure of their official titles), but it was a turn-off for me personally.

To the point, all of the actors are amazing in this movie. Lots of great voices. Some roles, I cannot see without these particular actors.
Miranda Richardson as the mistress of the house, Madame Giry... as the woman the Opera Ghost readily contacts and with whom he has a distant history with, I cannot see anyone else playing her. She's strict while knowledgeable about the goings-on and tries her best to keep the peace.

Minnie Driver as the diva Carlotta... she's one of those "love to hate them" type of characters. She's so obnoxious, stick-up and vain, you just have to laugh at the ridiculousness associated with her. Into her first couple minutes of screen time, you see the help stuffing their ears with tissues to block out her voice.
Not that it's terrible, per se, it's just not as ascetically pleasing to the ear. 
(Luckily for her, hers is the only voice that's dubbed over... Minnie Driver actually has a really nice voice, just listen to "Learn to be Lonely" in the credits)

Her part is rather small, but Meg has always kinda been one of my favorite supporting characters. She's Madame Giry's daughter and Christine's bestie. The two of them have great chemistry in the "Angel of Music" duet.
It bugs me that Jennifer Ellison really hasn't been in a lot of widely known movies since.

Last, but certainly not, least... Gerard Butler as the title character.
It's not his first role, but the first time I was introduced to his on-screen work. The man blows my mind with every inch of his performance. I dare say he should have at least been nominated! For something!

People can make cracks about Joel Schumacher all they want. How he ruined the "Batman" franchise started by Tim Burton with Robin and "bat nipples"..
I already went into "Batman Forever" and how much I enjoyed that installment of the series the most.
But I love what he did with the overall look at this movie.

Back to Gerard Butler for a second... my impression of The Phantom was that he was a monster who wanted nothing more than to possess Christine for all eternity.
Gerard Butler's performance gave this misunderstood character more of a human quality. Murders aside (and yes, I know how ridiculously irresponsible that sounds), I sometimes even PREFER him to Raoul in this interpretation.
If Raoul had shorter hair and was a little more attractive, maybe... he's just a little too goody-goody with very few complexities. In other words, a little dull.

While comparing this version to the original, just going by what I remember from listening to the few tracks we had, it's hard to argue with Sarah Brightman's voice. Her range is insane, few have the hope of matching it.
Then of course you have Michael Crawford, probably one of the most famous names in the history of Broadway (up there with Elaine Page from "Cats," no doubt *shudder* )... his voice is so poignantly recognizable, he embodies this role like nobody else has. But again, his incarnation is more supernatural and his voice alone gives you chills, feeling as if the character isn't human.

Art Direction and Cinematography

There must have been a lot of competition at the Oscars that year because this movie got no love at all from the awards venues. ["The Aviator" won the effects Oscars]
One thing you always notice about taking musical from the stage to the big screen is that everything is bigger. You see more of what's going on away from where the main action is. For example, you see a lot behind the stage, particularly when characters are moving from one set piece to the next. The scope of things is quite expansive.

My favorite touch is the use of snow. Granted, some of it does take place during the wintertime, but I love how two particular scenes look because of the snow.

Firstly, "All I ask of you" on the rooftop. With Christine draped in a red coat and snow gently falling, it has a fairytale quality to it. It leaves me in awe. As does The Phantom's soliloquy. I didn't recall it from the musical (but then again, I recall very little nowadays), so to me, it felt like a great add-in.

Secondly, the graveyard scene... snow on the ground as well as fog making it look more mysterious, but also adding to the impression of sadness.

Favorite Moments

Practically all of the songs are great... sometimes it's hard to really pick and choose.
But I'm not crazy about Carlotta's song before the opera "Il Muto".

In part because I don't understand anything she's saying, but also because I roll my eyes at the new owners of the Opera House kissing up to her.
Like, seriously? The crowd loved Christine when she sang "Think of me" the other night. Why would you bring back Carlotta? To flip off the Opera Ghost because he was telling them what to do?

Aside from that... "The Point of No Return" is one of those big production, awe-inspiring numbers. Not just the performances of The Phantom and Christine, but the imagery of it, as if they're lingering above the gates of hell. And then disappear into the "fire" pit when the chandelier comes down.
WOW... you gotta admit, that's always so impressive.

Final Remarks

Not much else to say... I love the big scale of this production, almost to death.
I'm not ashamed to admit that it's a tear-jerker for me. Sometimes it's the beauty of certain performances ("Think of me" and "Music of the night"). Sometimes it's in the details.

Rewatching the movie just the other night, I lost it during the Phantom's final moments, crying out in despair after he lets Christine and Raoul go. I think because I knew the ending was coming, but also because I hated to say good-bye to this amazing character.

What never fails to set me off is the final minutes of the movie.

Throughout, we see flash-forwards filmed in black & white, featuring an older Raoul and Meg. They share glances at the auction in the opening and she lets him win a musical box. Then in the end, he takes it to Christine's grave... I realize it's coming, but I get choked up when I see the rose wrapped in a black ribbon and their old engagement ring.

1854-1917, all things considered, Christine lived to a grand old age of 63 (pretty remarkable for that particular time, I think)... but it's sad to see Raoul having to carry on without her for the past couple years.
It's also very touching that, clearly, The Phantom hadn't forgotten her either.

Man, if he really was human, I wonder how old he would have been at that point.
And while on the age thing, I'm sure people out there who're familiar with the story would think it's kinda gross that he's romantically interested in her... when she's only 16.

Those people always have the option to NOT READ INTO IT.

One could go on forever and do the pros and cons between The Phantom and Raoul. Maybe it's just the fact The Phantom is more complex and vastly more mature (in other words, a man!) compared to Raoul, who appears boyish, even na├»ve.

For the record, I got the book and I muddled my way through it.
It wasn't just hard to read, but it was NOTHING like the movie. It came off to me as a ghost story, more spooky and creepy than being a romance and a love triangle.
To which I say, thank God for Andrew Lloyd Webber or else I wouldn't have found enjoyment in this age-old tale at all.

Finally...
it really sucks that Gerard Butler hasn't done anything THIS impressive since this movie. Like on this grand scale.
His past few movies weren't rated well, "P.S. I love You" was too melodramatic and he'd already died. "300" was good, but not something I'd watch repetitively.

Which leaves me with "The Bounty Hunter" (which was just horrible!) and "The Ugly Truth" where he's a chauvinist pig... I saw it recently and I don't even remember if he dropped the accent for this or not... I think he did... which is unfortunate, cuz I love that he has a heavy Scottish accent.
Again, here I go again with loving an actor who can also sing.

An Extra

When I was writing a sequel for one of my favorites, "Phantom" made its way in as the featured high school musical.
This is a short discussion about that
http://romantasyland.blogspot.com/2013/11/jonas-nina-take-on-phantom-of-opera.html

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